It was Wednesday. He was checking the repair orders at his shop and getting ready for his night classes when the police showed up. They didn’t gave much explanation, they just screamed something and took him. “You son of a bitch, you thought you could get rid with it right?” – They said. He was punched several times. He asked why and after a while, he got an answer. The other half of his shop, the one he decided to rent, was used by the tenants to hide a group they kidnapped; while they waited for the rescue. The tenants had told him they were in the clothes business, that they brought clothes from Peru to sell at the streets and they needed the space to save all their things during the nights. He did saw some Peruvian cotton pajamas and did not asked more, he believed them.
The tenants did were street sellers and they did save their things there; but as a second job, they were also part of a gang. The police never found those tenants. When they came to the storehouse they only found a regular guy, not band related, law’ student. But in Venezuela you are guilty until your prove the opposite; and there are times when you don’t even have a chance to do it. Since the police never found the tenants and they needed someone to blame in order to present results of their anti- kidnapping police; they opened a file against him. Her family got a lawyer – “A nice guy but we still owe him a lot of money” – that put together all things that proved his innocence: like he did not have a key of the space he rented nor further contact with the tenants besides the monthly payment.
Nothing seemed to work. People – from policemen to judges and lawyers – have explained to the family that in kidnapping cases there is nothing you can do about it. One of the most serious and widest crimes in Venezuela is kidnapping and the government needs to prove that they are doing something about it. When the government puts out numbers of how many people they have “caught in fraganti”; this guy is one of those numbers. But he never kidnapped anyone. He couldn’t even dare to steal a chocolate bar, his neighbors say.
He’s now in El Rodeo I. He’s been there for a year. And this story would have never touched this blog if it wasn’t for the big penitentiary’ system crisis that is hitting our souls, during this week more than ever. First, we heard of more than 30 prisoners dead in what it apparently was a fight between prisoners. But now we hear different numbers. Some people say 100. Some people say 500. And we will probably never know how many. The army has entered the prison in an attempt to calm things there but it seems that instead of bringing peace, they are probably bringing more death and sorrow.
From inside the prison, a huge column of tear gas comes out, affecting even the families who are standing outside waiting to hear some news about their sons, husbands and brothers. What they hear is gun shots from time to time. The government announced they took the “conflict leaders” to another prison. An illegal move, since you can’t move a prisoner to another place without prior judge’ approval. Plus, I heard on TV that the families don’t know which prisoners have been taken to another prison. Human Rights organizations next to many opposition figures are asking for the army to leave the prison, so a negotiated solution of the conflict can be made, that bring peace for all, without more human lives being sacrificed; including those of the army. Government figures blame the opposition as always. The opposition blames the government and they are probably right because after all, they are the ones in charge.
In a drama that repeats itself on almost every Venezuelan prison, El Rodeo was build to held about 1500 prisoners. But it has more than 6500 according to the prisoners’ families. Most prisoners sleep in the floor and they have to pay for their “space to sleep”. Many, like the guy of this story, are still expecting for a trial so they don’t know for how long they are supposed to stay in that place. They can receive food from their families only if the families pay to the guards for them to “enter the food”. And guys are killed every day in Venezuelan prisons, only that this time, too many were killed on the same day and so it got more media attention.
My office' secretary lives in the same neighborhood where the guy of this story used to live; that’s how I got access to it. She also grew up in that place and assured me, over and over again that this guy was a great person (funny, that she speaks about him in past tense, when he’s still alive but imprisoned), a man “echado pa’ lante” – not like others. Now she’s sure this guy life and future has been lost forever, even if he survives in the prison. The guy called her mom two days ago, assuring her that he’s ok but that she must be ready to pay some money because he assured some prisoners that he will pay them; so they could “protect” him. If he doesn’t pay, they will kill him.
To El Rodeo’ events, I have seen many reactions: from the ones who are as concerned as me for it is a clear violation of the prisoners’ Human Rights and also from people who seemed to have no knowledge of what a Human Right is; neither they seem to have a heart. They are against the government and seem to be very progressive people. They marched on the streets when RCTV (the biggest Venezuelan TV Channel back in 2007) was closed and they actively worked on every election hoping results turned out to our favor. And yet, when this happen, they dared to tell you that “I don’t care, those people have what they deserve, if they are in there is because they did something to end up there” – “Yes but they are still people and they still have rights…” - “They never thought of my rights when they stole/ killed/ kidnapped etc…” – “They did not. But the prison is not a place to turn them into something worse than what they were before entering, but into something better. Besides, there are many innocents imprisoned, many who still don’t have a trial…” – “Really?” – “Yes, really. If you were caught by the police by mistake and no one can take you out, would you think about your Human Right then?” –
After that, they look at me in regret and stay quiet. I CAN’T BELIEVE THOSE PEOPLE (Sorry for the caps). I tend to think our jail issue isn’t about the government, or the prisoners, or the mafias, or Human Rights organizations, or opposition figures, or the National Guard (Army).
At the end, this shameful issue is about us. Is about us saying that “criminals should pay and be treated like dogs because they did…”. It’s all in our resentment and our thirst of revenge; as it we could find any solution using revenge as a leit motiv. It’s all in our idea that prisons are for punishment, not for rehabilitation. It’s all in our ignorant and mistaken belief that Human Rights are just for some people, “good people”. No folks, Human Rights are for everyone. And if societies could measure themselves on the way the treat prisoners, we would be at the bottom line.
And there is nothing that makes me think we aren't. So shame on us.
About the image: Families cry outside El Rodeo. Image taken from here. Please go to my links below. Caracas Chronicles has a video you must see.